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Sheriff's focus: deploying deputies

Since January, he has reorganized the department toward more street patrol and less specialization.

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Bob White ran against Sheriff Lee Cannon on the promise that if elected, he would put more deputies on the street.

White won the election in November, and he is making good on his promise. Since taking office in January, the number of road deputies and corporals has risen by about five people to 138; dozens more will be added in the coming weeks.

White's success is largely due to Cannon: He had picked 42 people for the law enforcement academy before he left office. All of those recruits have graduated and will become full-fledged deputies within a month or two.

But during his first 100 days in office, White has chosen to focus on reorganizing the agency so more "slick sleeves" -- his phrase -- will patrol the streets. Fewer specialists will work cases, he said. No new positions have been added.

Some of White's changes include:

Phasing out the agency's domestic violence unit. The sergeant and deputies will be transferred to patrol. The sergeant also will train the road deputies on domestic violence cases, so at least one person on each shift will be an expert in such cases.

Asking special units -- marine, agricultural, Strategic Traffic Enforcement Patrol (STEP) and Community Oriented Policing (COP) -- to respond to general calls, instead of handling only unit-specific crimes such as drunken driving.

Merging the Crimes Against Persons and Crimes Against Children units, and creating two "major crimes squads" that will handle violent crimes such as murder, battery and extreme child abuse.

"It's as much deployment as it is staffing," said White. "It's very flexible. We want it to be very fluid. It's going to take a while for the community to see the difference in the final analysis, but that's what counts."

On Wednesday, White will mark his 100th day in office.

White started his tenure with some controversy. Not only did he fire several longtime employees who worked for Cannon, but he did not promote many people within the agency. All but two of his nine-member command staff are from outside Pasco.

But crime within the county soon replaced politics. During White's first few months, the agency made arrests in five of six homicides, made an arrest in a two-weeklong bank robbery spree and was involved in two suspect shootings.

Each of those cases has prompted White to create a new policy or procedure.

Take the homicides, for instance.

White said he is alarmed at the number of unsolved homicides in Pasco over the years, and he has formed a group within the major crimes squad to look at the cold cases. There are at least 31 of them since 1973.

"Unless someone has been arrested on an unrelated crime, the killers are still out there," White said.

When seven banks were robbed in Pasco and Pinellas counties, White and his command staff created a task force composed of local, state and federal officers to investigate.

And when deputies shot at two suspects during two different cases, he asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look at the deputies' actions, instead of handling the investigations internally.

"I wanted to make sure there were not internal politics in this agency," White said. "It's important that people in the organization who risk their life trust us not to hurt them, and we want the community to know that we're not afraid of oversight."

White, who admitted during the campaign that he knew very little about county jails, is now touting the changes he and his command staff have made.

Since taking office, he has created 60 new beds within the two county jails. In some cases, jail authorities moved specific groups of inmates -- for instance, the mentally ill -- to smaller cell blocks, which created larger spaces for the general jail population.

In other instances, White had maintenance workers create bunk beds so a room could accommodate two beds instead of one.

"When we got here, there were 60-80 people sleeping on the floor," White said. "Now, there's not one on the floor."

During an interview with a Times reporter last week, White spent most of the time talking about the changes he has made and the quality of his employees.

"They want to give their all," he said.

"Becoming sheriff is not going the way I thought it would. It's better than I thought it would be."

White's tenure

Here are some significant milestones in the first 100 days of the Bob White administration:

Jan. 2: Bob White begins his first day in office.

Jan. 4: White suspends physical fitness testing for deputies.

Jan. 4: A man found dead in Land O'Lakes is the county's first homicide; six more people were killed in Pasco during White's first 100 days in office. Five of the crimes would end in arrest; one is still unsolved.

Feb. 23: White convenes a "bank robbery task force," composed of local, state and federal officers, to solve a rash of bank robberies in Pasco and Pinellas counties. The robber is caught two days later.

Feb. 28: Pasco deputies are involved in a chase and shooting of a suspect in New Port Richey. White goes to the scene of the shooting and asks the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the incident.

March 1: White orders more than 200 deputies to hand in their cell phones, saying the phone bills are costing the agency too much.

March 10: Pasco deputies are involved in another shooting of a suspect, this time outside of a Hudson motel. Again, White goes to the scene of the shooting and enlists the FDLE to investigate.

April 2: White announces that he will phase out the agency's domestic violence unit. Eventually, patrol deputies will be specially trained to handle domestic calls.

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